My experience as an Arab, and a hijab-donning Muslim woman tells me that not everyone really understands how multiculturalism works. Not everyone gets it.
From what I have seen, embracing multiculturalism is often celebrated with food and dance and clothing displays of the “other”. That’s a good place to start, sure… the eye craves visual flavours. What is agreed by all as important, is the differences in spices, famous dishes tastes, and traditional clothing styles.
And yet, how is this same level of urgency not inclusive to understand the life values, and most importantly, the experiences of the “other”? To understand what brings them pain, and what brings them joy? To understand how multidimensional identity aspects of their being can play out in their day to day world?
These more important matters that concern a human being’s soul, their thoughts, their feelings – that is not touched. As long as the physical outer appearance is embraced, and what’s on top of their bodies is acknowledged, there is no need to delve deeper into the messy things that actually make us human.
Except, I think there is.
Giving the benefit of the doubt, I’ll say this: lots of people just aren’t aware that there are unaddressed issues because they don’t have to deal with them on a constant basis. I’m not writing this post to point fingers of blame at anyone – that’s not what I do. Much of what I say might equally apply to me; I’m just thinking out loud here. I’m hoping to shed some light on shadows the mainstream narrative prefers to keep hidden… because if revealed, it challenges the dominant narrative, the status quo.
“Multicultural tolerance and the settler narrative suggest that even though Canada is open to all comers, the recognition of difference is limited to that which does not threaten white settler domination.” ( Carol Schick, White Resentment in Settler Society)
So, as long as multiculturalism doesn’t threaten the benevolent, open, tolerant image of the multicultural country… it’s allowed. As soon as it starts to reveal cracks in the system, intolerant behaviour ensues. It’s slyly disguised as “we are so tolerant, why are these people being so ungrateful now!”
Perhaps an example would help make sense of what I’m writing; just look at Aboriginal people in the West.
“Multiculturalism has been used to defend schools against the need for education for and about aboriginal peoples, in spite of ‘racism and colonialism.’ Ironically, ‘multiculturalism’ operates as a talisman that further relegates aboriginal peoples, along with their culture and history, to a museum-worthy site.” (Carol Schick)
Museum-worthy, eh… Yeah, this strikes a bell. Sure, do let us celebrate clothing, food and music. (No sarcasm, I mean it. Really, let’s!) But if it has to include listening to how racism still exists around us, and if it includes facing the impacts of colonialism that are ever still present…. why, it becomes too controversial for conversation. So controversial, in fact, to even include in educational curricula. While the winds are slowly changing on that front, there is a tremendously long way to go.
Many people will justify their decisions to not take a stance in matters of colonialism or occupation, as “I am neutral.”
There is no such thing as a neutral stance in matters of oppression. When you’re silent about defending those stolen from, you are automatically validating the thief.
Hey. I get it. Talking about matters of diversity and lack-of, white privilege, sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination… it’s not easy. It’s not always pleasant. I get that, okay? I’m a person of colour, a visible religious young woman, but that doesn’t mean that I am always in the mood to talk about how terribly insensitive people can be to one another.
But when the conversation is opened, it shouldn’t be shut down on grounds of “neutrality” or “well, I don’t see colour.” That’s a pathetic non-excuse to excuse yourself out of a potentially awkward conversation.
In Nayyirah Waheed’s crystal-clear resonating words:
As a Palestinian, I have had to live with similar sensations my whole life. I have grown up in environments where my cultural food is celebrated, my Arabic music is enjoyed, our dancing is admired, our fashion is welcomed – but our hearts, our minds, our experiences, are not worthy enough.
Our history is silenced. Our ghosts are in our heads. In the name of “neutrality”, I have been shunned instead, ignored, silently told “your suffering is not worthy.”
Of course this would be the message: in a land that has yet to fully reconcile with its Aboriginal peoples, who am I to expect that they’d care about the Indigenous peoples of another faraway land? This narrative only causes resentment.
“Anxiety and ambivalence rise in the conflicting desires to be the good, non-racist citizen/subject while maintaining one’s way of living as entitled and superior. The inability to resolve the contradictory and destabilizing stories that have to be told – about racial stereotypes and putative white innocence– are also grist for resentment.”
If you feel like you have to prove your self-worth to someone, then know their company is not worth yours. It shouldn’t be your burden to carry the guilt off of guilty shoulders – even if they don’t know what they are guilty of. Instead, be patient and kind with them until they realise the invisible weight they’re carrying. Whatever you do… don’t haul it onto your shoulders instead. Your mental comfort matters, too.
“it’s not about making you uncomfortable. it’s about making me comfortable.” (“reparations” by Nayyirah Waheed, salt.)
There are so many people and initiatives out there sincerely trying to make the world a better place for all. When I meet these people I am overwhelmed with gratitude to find such goodness. I just pray that more and more of us can fall into this wonderful group – myself included. It is not enough to be a person of colour to absolve blame of blameworthy traits like judgment, discrimination, other forms of privilege… I hold myself accountable just as much.
All praise to the One who puts sakeena and inner tranquillity in hearts. May He put it in yours, whoever you are that is reading this.
And God knows Best.